You can usually do things to ease shoulder pain yourself. See a GP if it does not start feeling better after 2 weeks.
How to ease shoulder pain yourself
You usually need to do these things for 2 weeks before shoulder pain starts to ease.
It can take 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully from mild shoulder pain.
- stay active and gently move your shoulder
- try exercises for shoulder pain – do them for 6 to 8 weeks to stop pain returning
- stand up straight with your shoulders gently back
- sit with a cushion behind your lower back
- rest your arm on a cushion in your lap
- use pain relief so you can keep moving – try painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, and heat or cold packs
- do not completely stop using your shoulder – this can stop it getting better
- do not do things that seem to make it worse
- do not make up your own strenuous exercises or use heavy gym equipment
- do not slouch when sitting – do not roll your shoulders or bring your neck forward
Try either a:
- pack of frozen peas in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day
- hot water bottle in a tea towel for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day
A pharmacist can help with shoulder pain
A pharmacist can suggest:
- the best painkiller – this might be tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin
- other ideas for pain relief and things you can buy to help, like heat and cold packs
- seeing a GP if you need to
See a GP if:
- the pain does not improve after 2 weeks
- it's very difficult to move your arm or shoulder
- the pain started after an injury or accident, like a fall
Treatment from a GP
A GP will examine you to work out what's causing your shoulder pain.
They might send you for tests (such as an X-ray) to check the cause.
They'll suggest a treatment based on the cause, for example:
- stronger medication or injections to ease pain and swelling
- physiotherapy or exercises to do at home
- things to avoid to stop the pain getting worse or returning
- seeing a specialist for tests or treatment
Causes of shoulder pain
Shoulder pain that does not improve after 2 weeks might be caused by something that needs treatment.
Do not self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.
|Shoulder symptoms||Possible causes|
|Pain and stiffness that does not go away over months or years||frozen shoulder, arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)|
|Pain that's often worse while using your arm or shoulder||tendonitis, bursitis, impingement|
|Tingling, numb, weak, feels like it's clicking or locking||shoulder instability, sometimes because of hypermobility|
|Sudden very bad pain, cannot move your arm (or it's difficult), sometimes changes shape||dislocated shoulder, broken bone (such as the upper arm or collarbone), torn or ruptured tendon|
|Pain on top of the shoulder (where the collarbone and shoulder joint meet)||problems in the acromioclavicular joint, like dislocation or stretched or torn ligaments|